HL Deb 25 April 1887 vol 313 cc1758-76

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.

Moved "That the Bill be now read 2a." —(The Lord Chancellor.)


, in moving that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, he had put the Notice of Amendment on the Paper after much reluctance and hesitation; but he thought it inconsistent with the dignity of their Lordships' House that that which they had always regarded as the keystone of their institutions should be taken out and cast away without a word of protest. The question of primogeniture was one which nearly touched and vitally affected the estates and families of every individual Peer in that House. As far as this Bill tended to increase the number of freehold holdings he wished it success; but he thought that by abolishing primogeniture they were undoing with one hand what they were attempting on the other to do by legislation, because without primogeniture a freehold would not remain in a family. It might be said that it could be arranged by will that the holding should go to any particular son; but for people of small means the expense of a will would always be a consideration, and he thought that when this Bill came to be properly understood it would not be so acceptable to those whom it affected as seemed to be supposed. The attempt by the promoters of this Bill to put real property on the same footing with personal property was a sop to the Cerberus of Socialism. There would come a time, if proposals of this kind were encouraged, when the party of destruction would strive to abolish the cherished liberty of that bequest. He believed that it would be a great mistake to reduce the different sorts of j property to a common denomination, and feared that the Bill would be tantamount to a sentence of death and extinction for many ancient families. He would almost prefer uniform and direct appropriation with compensation rather than have this sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of all the important families of England. It was more mockery to say that the Bill was not compulsory, because it became practically so at death. He moved that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.

Amendment moved, to leave out (''now") and add at the end of the Motion ("this day six months.")—(The Lord Arundell of Wardour.)


said, England was the only country in Europe where the State was not the fountain of title. In every other country there existed some form of land registration. In England the title to land depended upon a deed which was a private memorandum between parties. This deed recorded the transactions which had taken place from generation to generation, and which had their origin in a grant from the Crown. The title to land in England was essentially feudal in its origin. That was an important fact to remember, because in dealing with titles to real property they were interfering with one of the most ancient monuments in the Kingdom—one of those few monuments which had not been touched by the ruthless ravages of democratic spoliation. He admitted that he thought the time had come when this question must be dealt with, and he hailed with great pleasure the advent of this Bill. He gathered that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack had endeavoured to average the best opinion on this subject. Among the minor provisions of the measure he recognized a certain strong similitude to provisions contained in the Bill which he himself introduced in 1885. As yet, in considering the question of the registration of land, they had never ventured to lay aside the old notion of tenure by deed. If a measure of registration was ever to be successful it must enable them to put their deeds behind the fire. This condition was not fulfilled by the Bill before the House, and he feared that it would therefore fail to secure cheapness and facility of transfer. The 1st clause of the Bill stated that a Registration Office would be established, and that as time went on other offices would be established elsewhere. It seemed to him that that was an inadequate provision. The machinery of registration ought to be perfect and complete before the contemplated change was begun. Partial efforts could only result in confusion. As the Bill stood considerable difficulties might arise with respect to the registration of land on the borders of two counties, and solicitors would find it difficult to advise their clients. Some scheme of a more definite and absolute character ought to be incorporated in the Bill. With respect to this and other matters there was great vagueness in the Bill, and far too much was left to be settled in the rules to be issued by the Lord Chancellor from time to time. Then, by Clause 5, it would seem that the names of the trustees must appear on the register, as well as that of the tenant for life. If that was so, the purchaser would be obliged to go behind the register and inquire into the trusts themselves. The noble Marquess at the head of the Government (the Marquess of Salisbury) had said that the law of settlement was one of great value. But did the noble Marquess mean marriage settlements or the settlements of real estate in strict entail? He agreed that settlements inter vivos were often useful. But if the Law of Entail was to be touched, ought we not at the same time to do away with the law which permitted the tying up of property for a life, or lives, in being and 21 years after the death of the survivor? In that case it might desirable to give the tenant for life power to buy up the interests of remainder men and reversioners. With respect to Clause 7, dealing with possessory titles, it might be wise to adopt the system of New South Wales, under which caveats and notices were issued to the adjoining proprietors. Lord Cairns's Act of 1875 was indefinite on the descriptions of boundaries, and the clauses in the present Bill on this matter were unnecessary. He was informed that boundary disputes were of very rare occurrence. In this respect the maps of the Ordnance Survey, now happily approaching completion, would be of great value. Clause 17, relating to the insurance fund, was of an extra- ordinary character, and this clause, as well as Sub-section 2 of Clause 18, under which the mortgagee had a right to have his name on the register as well as the owner, might give rise to considerable difficulty. Clause 15 provided that there should be an insurance fund for the purpose of compensating persons who might be accidentally wronged by the operation of the Act, and the first schedule set forth the terms of this insurance. Practically, if anybody put land upon the register, got an absolute title for it, and afterwards mortgaged the property, the insurance fee alone would amount to 16s. 8d. per cent, which was a very heavy charge. He hailed with great pleasure the prospect of having land easily transferred; but he thought that unless the considerations he had placed before their Lordships met with some attention, the present measure might possibly prove to be a failure.


said, he approved the object of the Bill to the fullest possible extent; but he thought that many of its clauses would require Amendment in Committee.


said, that he hoped the provisions of the Bill which related to primogeniture and entail would be extended to Ireland. With respect to those which dealt with registration, he thought considerable care would have to be exercised as to the method adopted, having regard to the great changes which had recently taken place and the still greater changes which were now in progress in respect to land in Ireland. There were a considerable number of small holders under Lord Ashbourne's Act, and the Government had in contemplation a large measure to enable or compel tenants to purchase their holdings. But even if that should not pass he would impress upon the Government the advisability of establishing a simple, inexpensive and, if possible, local registry for the purpose of recording the titles acquired under the Acts now in force. He might be told that Parliamentary inquiries had settled the question of registration, but he pointed out that the result of the last of those inquiries was published in 1879, which was prior to the large changes to which he had referred. The small properties which were being created in Ireland were being paid for out of public moneys, and it was therefore very desirable that the title of the State should be as clear and as easily realized as possible. He would, therefore, urge upon the Government to extend, as far as possible, the provisions with regard to primogeniture and entail, and that they should not lose sight of the question of the registration of title.


said that, as they had in Ireland the same law of real property as in England, he thought it would be reasonable and right to ex-tend the provisions about divergencies being treated, and to consider carefully the suggested extension of the provisions as to primogeniture and entail to Ireland. As to registration, they had a system in Ireland which had worked well during a long period and which was thoroughly understood. From time to time certain desirable amendments had been pointed out, but those were matters which plainly should be dealt with by separate legislation, and to attempt to deal with them in that Bill would be to add very serious obstacles to its passing. He, however, would be glad to confer with the Lord Chancellor on the subject generally.


said, that the perusal of this Bill had confirmed him in the opinion of its value and importance which he had expressed when it was introduced. It dealt in one part with land transfer, and in another with the law of real property. He thought those questions might perhaps have been better dealt with in separate Bills. But that was not a ground upon which he could oppose either part of the Bill. It was, also, very difficult to understand the Bill without having present to one's mind the provisions of the principal enactment to which it throughout referred. He, therefore, thought that after it was passed, if it did pass, no time ought to be lost in consolidating the law, in order that the whole law on the subject might be seen together. On the question of compulsion, he was still of the same opinion as he was in 1873 and 1875. He thought that to make a Bill of that sort useful at all some compulsion was necessary, because experience had shown that people preferred the methods to which they were accustomed, and which they understood, to any mere option to deviate from them. There was an opinion prevalent in the country— he did not say it was altogether well- founded—that the great difficulty of making land profitable arose from the complication of the system under which titles to land were made out. That it could be simplified to the full extant which some people supposed was not certain; but there was no doubt that to simplify it as far as possible there must be a system of registration. They could not in any other way work off the difficulties of title—the preparation and examination of the abstract, the making and answering of requisitions, and so on—which made dealing with land in this country a tedious, an expensive, and, sometimes, a hazardous process. To get rid of the whole of the present difficulties, and to make the transfer of property upon purchase and sale a simple matter, was a very great object indeed; and, although it could not be done all at once, yet the scheme proposed by this Bill for enabling a person who was registered upon a possessory title to go within a limited time and get an absolute title was the only way of doing it, unless they were content to wait for a long period of 20, 30, or 60 years, which would not be so effective or desirable. But, in order to do even that, they must lay a foundation in registry, and it must be a general and compulsory registry. From that point of view it appeared to him that the noble Duke opposite had laid his finger upon a drawback from the perfection of the present Bill—namely, that it did not contemplate a general and simultaneous registry for the whole country, but simply a registry in London, with power for the Crown to establish branch offices in districts to be prescribed and defined from time to time. Until that was done all over the country, they certainly could not have a perfect system. The obstacle in the way of setting up district registries was, of course, that it would cost money; because it was not probable that the registry system, though it might become self-supporting in the end, would be self-supporting at the beginning. He ventured, when he proposed a Bill of this sort in 1873, to take that bull by the horns and to contemplate the establishment of proper offices for the purpose of registry everywhere. The view which he took at that time, although he fully appreciated the difficulties, was this—As to the process of making absolute a Parliamentary title, that could only be done by thoroughly skilled persons, and for that he did not contemplate any but a central office performing that operation. But, with regard to the registry of possessory titles, and the transfer of registered titles, it appeared to him that those gentlemen who were local registrars for other purposes, would be competent to be intrusted also with the duties of a registry office for that purpose; and he did not think that the salary need be anything but a small one. All he could add on that part of the subject was that while he felt that this Bill, or any Bill, must be imperfect until the whole ground was occupied, yet he would rather have a Bill which would begin by covering from time to time such part of the ground as was practicable than none at all; because if it once came into operation, and proved useful in operation, he felt tolerably sure that it would, from time to time, be extended. With regard to the means of compulsion, his own proposition was to apply the compulsion only upon any sale within a short period, and not in those cases in which property came by will or by descent or by any means which had not the character of sale. The present Bill carried the principle of compulsion further, and he was not sure that there were not some difficulties in the means proposed. Until the first registry, after the time fixed, it seemed to be proposed, not only to make all beneficial interests merely equitable, but practically to suspend all the powers of ownership. He was sure that this must be inconvenient, and he did not think it necessary. He now had to observe upon the clauses relating to the representation of settled estates by trustees, and of devised estates by executors. The Bill seemed to assume that there must be trustees of all settlements. But under settlements the persons beneficially entitled generally took legal estates; and trustees were only provided for special purposes, or possible emergencies. He thought the tenant for life, to whose estate a power of sale was now by law annexed, ought to be the registered owner. He was not persuaded of the necessity or the expediency of vesting all devised real estate in executors, and of turning all the rights of the true owners into more equi- table estates. Executors, as a rule, were honest men. But unfortunately, as they knew, there were cases in which personal estate was fraudulently appropriated; and under the Bill it might be in the power of one man to sell the estate and go off to America with the proceeds. It was supposed that this would be more convenient for the payment of debts; but, for his own part, he thought that the existing powers of sale given by the law were not so cumbrous or insufficient as to make so large a change necessary. With regard to the question of error or fraud, the Bill declared that— Where a person satisfies the High Court that he has been deprived of any registered land by any forgery or fraud, or by any error of the Land Transfer Board, or any of its officers, the Court may, according as it may think equitable under the circumstances, either order payment of compensation to that person out of the insurance fund, or order that the land shall be restored. It seemed to him that more definite lines should be laid down for the judgment of the Court in this matter, and he would suggest that the principle should be that where the person registered as owner under a title certified as absolute was in good faith, and free from all imputation of fraud, whether a purchaser for value or not, he should have the land, and that the person whose title would otherwise have been preferable should only recover the land on proof of fraud against the registered owner, and in any case of mere error should be compensated in money. As to mortgagees, he did not think they ought to be allowed to register as owners; they should be entered, in all cases, upon the register of charges, as provided by Lord Cairns' Act. With regard to the question of charges for future advances, Section 20 repealed the law, as declared by their Lordships in the case of "Rolt and Hopkinson." In that case there was a first mortgage, for a definite sum, and any further advances up to a specified amount; notice was given of a second charge after part only of the specified amount had been advanced, after which there were further advances by the first mortgagee up to the full amount. In that case it was held that the second mortgagee had priority over all advances made by the first mortgagee after receiving notice of the second charge. He saw that the proposed reversal of the rule established by that decision was approved by the Incorporated Law Society; but on that point he was unable to agree with them. The rule applied only when the first mortgagees were under no contract to go on making advances. The proposed change in the law would practically place the borrower, whatever his necessities might be, at their mercy. No one else could safely make an advance to him until the maximum amount had been reached; and yet he might be unable to get an advance to that amount from the first mortgagee, or might be able to get it only upon exorbitant and usurious terms. Nobody was hurt by the law as it stood; for the first mortgagees were quite safe, as it was, in going on with their advances until they had notice of the second charge. These were the only points on which he now thought it necessary to observe; and he did so, although they were, in strictness, questions upon particular clauses; because the passing of a Bill of this kind through the stage of Committee might be made easier if ample time were given beforehand for the consideration of criticisms by those who were friendly to its objects. He desired to end as he had begun by congratulating the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack upon having made a great step towards accomplishing a very important object.


said, he joined in the opinion that great credit was due to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack for the courage with which he had dealt with this very difficult subject. He would not, however, add that he congratulated him until the result of this measure was seen, for such congratulations had in the past been very premature, and he did not wish to add to the list of false prophets. In such observations as he should make, his object would be to render such assistance as he could to the noble and learned Lord. This Bill was an Amendment Bill and was to be road with the Act of 1875. Now, this might be regarded as a matter of drafting, but it was really a very important point. No one by reading this measure after it was passed could tell what the law on the subject exactly would be. It would be necessary to refer to the Act of 1875, and the Schedules of that Act, and compare the two together. He should have thought that it would be better to treat the whole Subject in one Bill as an entirely new scheme. The Act of 1875 had been a failure, and this Bill would, he thought, have a better chance of success if it was treated as a wholly separate measure. The Bill, as had been pointed out, dealt in one part with changes in the Law of Real Property and changes in land transfer and registration. The changes in the Law of Real Property consisted in the abolition of the Law of Inheritance and of estates tail. He need hardly say that he approved of the abolition of the Law of Inheritance. This would not prevent any man devising his estate to his eldest son if he chose to do so. This change in the law would not, he thought, touch most of those cases in which estates were now usually entailed, but it would prevent a great deal of injustice being done in those cases in which the owner died without making a will, but in which if he had made a will he would have divided his real property. What was the most just dispensation of a man's property where he did not make a will? The law had already decided this point in regard to personal property, and he did not see why the same rules as to distribution should not prevail with regard to real estate. The Bill, he noticed, provided that a life estate should be given to the husband or wife. But he did not approve of this. He had an objection to life estates generally; but irrespective of this he did not think that it would be fair to the children that the widow should have a life estate, and that the property should only be sold and divided on her death. Nor did he see why this difference should be made between freehold and leasehold property— that the widow of one man who had possessed freehold property should have a life estate in it after his death, while the widow of a man who held leasehold should not. He altogether approved of that part of the Bill which abolished estates tail. There was, however, danger of public misapprehension on this point. Some persons might be held to suppose that this would stop the "tying up of land." The abolition of estates tail would have very little effect on the tying up of land. One of the great barriers to the diffusion of land was the existence of tenants for life in relation to so large a portion of the land of the country. He attached great importance to the diffusion of land for many reasons, one of which was, that he believed that no property was really safe unless it had for its support the self-interest of a great number of people. He remembered being much impressed, when a Member of the House of Commons, by the answer of a Conservative Member who voted for the Leasehold Enfranchisement Bill, and who, when asked why he approved of so revolutionary a measure, remarked—"Well, you see, I want to buy my house in such and such a street." Even among respectable and staid Conservatives, most of them were leaseholders, and freeholders were few. If the number of freeholders were increased the security of freehold property would thereby also be increased. The system of life estates was responsible for several evils; it often, for example, put obstacles in the way of the transfer and purchase of land which it was desirable to sell. When a tenant for life was made bankrupt, the estate, instead of being sold, was worked for the benefit of the creditors, and, too often, was "starved." He recognized that in the present state of public opinion upon the subject the law could not be altered so as to prohibit altogether the creation of life tenancies, but might not some limitation be introduced? For instance, might not the power be limited to the creation of life estates for children? It was supposed by many people that the Settled Land Act had removed all grounds for criticism adverse to the system of life estates, but the supposition was not well founded. A tenant for life who sold under the Act was compelled to invest the purchase-money in certain specified securities. The consequence was that a tenant refrained from selling when the land yielded more than would be obtained from those investments. Then when a tenant became bankrupt the estate passed to the assignee; the tenant, of course, had no inducement to sell, and the assignee could not. Would it not be wise to permit the sale of the estate by the assignee in cases of that kind? Another reason why tenants did not avail themselves in greater numbers of the Settled Land Act would be found in the provision rendering necessary a special order of Court before the mansion-house and demesne could be sold. The mere fact that an application to the Court was necessary deterred many tenants from selling. Another point to which attention might be turned with advantage was the present power of accumulation. A testator could direct that accumulation should continue for a period of 21 years. Such directions seldom effected any useful purpose and were often mischievous. With regard to the proposed change in the system of land transfer, he was strongly of opinion that if it was to be compulsory they ought to make it cheap. If it were said that it could not be made cheap for the landowner without imposing some burden on the public, the answer would be that if registration were made compulsory in the interest of the public it was but fair that the public should bear part of the burden. In order that they might form an opinion as to the best mode of introducing the change it was very desirable that they should be furnished with information with respect to the experience of foreign countries. He hoped, therefore, that they would be supplied without delay with Reports showing how the system was established in Prussia in 1872 and in Hungary. He believed that in Hungary the work had been done by temporary Commissions, and that it had been done rapidly and at little cost. With reference to the question of boundaries, he might illustrate the difficulties which arose in this connection by a case of two adjoining farms which were settled in 1820 or 1821, as to the boundaries of which difficulties arose 35 years after the settlement, difficulties which had to be decided by conflicting statutory declarations of old inhabitants, and were finally settled by giving half the disputed property to one claimant and half to another. With respect to the insurance fund—which in principle he heartily approved—the question arose, in the case of a person being on the register who was not the true owner, whether the land ought to be restored to the true owner, while compensation was given to the person on the register, or vice versâ? In his judgment restitution was the right principle, and compensation to the person wrongfully entered on the register. On this occasion a careful attempt ought to be made to settle once for all this most complicated question. We had the failures of the past to warn us, and we had the benefit of past experience. He trusted that the noble Marquess opposite would do his best to procure the Report from Vienna, and that the Bill would not be proceeded with before that Report was received.


said, he thought that his noble and learned Friend on the Woolsack had scarcely done himself justice by calling this a Land Transfer Bill, since he has shown his courage and wisdom in dealing boldly with some of the antiquated doctrines and practices of our Real Property Law. The substance of this Bill was a right measure. In reference to the Insurance Fund, he thought the right principle to go upon was that the person who was truly entitled to the property should be allowed to enjoy it, and that the person who had wrongly got upon the register should have the money compensation.


I shall feel obliged to the noble and learned Lord (Lord Herschell) if he would kindly furnish me with the dates of the laws in Austria-Hungary, about which he desires the Government to obtain information. The noble and learned Lord has taken advantage of this Bill to deliver an attack upon a matter not contained in it—namely, the existing laws of settlement in this country. It is in reference to what he said that I wish to make a few remarks. It seems to me that the noble and learned Lord's remarks had reference to more vulgar arguments than I should have expected from one in his high position, and that he descended to the commonplaces of the platform instead of using the lucid and legal arguments with which the rest of his speech was adorned. In the first place, he told us that it was necessary to abolish settlements in estates because of the importance of promoting the diffusion of land; and he dwelt very strongly on the political support which the diffusion of property in land would give to that kind of property. The noble and learned Lord illustrated his contention with a story of his experience in the House of Commons, which I believe contains a very true moral, when he practically intimated that the case for the Leasehold Enfranchisement Bill really depends on the fact that certain Members of the House of Commons who support that measure are leaseholders under the Duke of Westminster. It is not often that you have to deal with Members of the House of Commons who are concerned as a class in questions of this kind; but when you talk of the value of the diffusion of property for maintaining the principle of property you mean the diffusion of small quantities among large masses. I entirely concur in that view of the noble and learned Lord. It is, I believe, one of the greatest advantages to have a large diffusion of land among small holders, and it is a misfortune that in this country we have, to a certain extent—though not to so great an extent as is supposed—lost that advantage. But does the noble and learned Lord really believe that the abolition of the practice of settlement in the families who ordinarily practise it will produce any great diffusion of land among the masses of this country? If a man wants to sell little bits of land he can do it now. The noble and learned Lord says, however, that a man has no temptation to do it, because he may invest his money in more lucrative securities; but that consideration does not apply to the sale of small pieces of land. That sale is as unrestrained as it is ever likely to be. If you abolish settlements you might—although I have my doubts whether you would—produce a greater diffusion of land among proprietors of a more moderate size; but the number of them would be exceedingly small when the whole sum was taken, and you would produce no effect whatever on the diffusion of land among those people whose possession of it would give it a, real political security, and it is very doubtful to my mind whether you would produce the diffusion at all. If the tendency of land is to mass and to get into aggregation, the more easy you make the transfer of land from one man to another the more that tendency will work. If the tendency of land is to diffuse, no doubt such alterations of the law as are proposed by the noble and learned Lord would have a certain effect in diffusing it. But if, as I believe, the tendency of land will always be to get itself into few hands—because land is an unremunerative investment, and therefore must, to a certain extent, be the investment of rich men—for that reason the more you make it easy for land to pass from hand to hand the more you may expect it on the whole to get into fewer hands. I think this matter of the settlement of land has suffered in the discussion, because it has been dealt with so much by the lawyers and so little by landowners. The noble and learned Lord seems to think that the main effect of the abolition of settlement would be to promote the sale of land; and he appeared to be inspired with, an idea which is very common to arguers of his school, that all the landowners of this country are bursting with a desire to sell their land, and that it is nothing but the law which prevents them from doing so. I do not believe that that is the working of settlement at all. I do not believe that the landowners of this country do desire to sell their land. On the contrary, I think the sentiment of the landowners is very strongly to keep their lands, and often when economically they ought to sell it; but what every landowner some time in his life desires to do is to mortgage his land, and that is what is prevented by the present law of settlement. One great benefit which the system of settlement has conferred upon this country is that it has restrained the tendency to mortgage land, which is so terrible an evil in every part of the world. Nothing injures the management of land so much as the fact that it is under heavy mortgage. The noble and learned Lord said very justly that a man who was embarrassed did not do justice to his land; but remove the settlement and you remove the greatest hindrance to the embarrassment that exists and increase the temptation to mortgage. My belief is, therefore, that so far from increasing the number of men who are in a position to do justice to their land and to manage it liberally and successfully, by abolishing the law of settlement, you will, on the contrary, diminish the number very largely. The noble and learned Lord seemed to gloat over the idea of a ruined landowner being forced to sell his land. I do not believe that that would be an improvement on the present state of things. I believe the existence of the law and practice of settlement discourages creditors from lending to extravagant owners of land, who consequently are forced to be more economical than they otherwise would be, and the result and consequence is—though Heaven knows we have plenty of scandals of great ruin and extravagance—we should have ten times more of these scandals if the practice of settlement ceased. It might tend to the diffusion of land, or it might not, but I would ask the noble and learned Lord to consider whether it would be a moral advantage? There is nothing in a community which depends so much on the influence of fashion as the extent to which extravagance is considered to be a virtue, and fashion is almost entirely in the hands of the upper classes in England. If you make the upper classes extravagant and unthrifty, extravagance and unthrift will become the fashion, and the fatal poison will spread. I believe that the practice of settlement in enforcing a considerable amount of thrift upon those who set the fashion and give the tone in matters of expenditure, has been a real benefit to the country; and I cannot imagine any greater evil than that the wealthier classes in this country should be utterly unfettered in times of extravagance and moments of temptation, and be able to set an example which would be fatal to the virtue and prosperity of the country.


I cannot pass by without observation, one or two words which fell from the noble Lord who moved the Amendment. It is, I admit, somewhat refreshing to me to hear myself described as a revolutionary legislator, and as the author of a popularity-hunting Bill. I return my thanks to the noble Lord for discovering the peculiarity which he is good enough to attribute to me. I do not believe that the law of inheritance has any very important bearing upon the devolution of real property, but it certainly does present considerable difficulties in the way of the verification of title, and particularly in the registration of it. Consequently an alteration ought to be made for the great purpose of establishing a register which will facilitate the disposition of land, and not for the purpose to which the noble Lord referred. The noble Duke (the Duke of Marlborough), whoso interest in the discussion appears to have passed away, has suggested that the expense of the new system will be greater than that which exists at present. I do not know whether the noble Duke has ever considered what the expense is, not of selling a whole estate, but of selling a piece of an estate. On each occasion when you sell a piece of an estate the whole process has to be gone through again, and the same cost incurred. On one occasion I acted as an arbitrator with regard to the costs to be paid by a landed proprietor to his solicitor, and I found that in a very large number of cases pieces of land had been sold, and that the expenses claimed amounted pretty nearly to the value of the fee-simple of the estate. It is that scandal which renders it necessary that some system of land registration should be adopted. On each occasion when you sell one part of the land exactly the same process has to be gone over which is necessary on a sale of the whole estate. Of course, each purchaser of a part is entitled to have just as thorough an investigation of the title as a purchaser of the whole. It is only necessary to say that you can by a series of small transfers make the costs of transfer equal to the fee-simple of the land in order to show that an alteration in the law is urgently demanded. Many of the speeches which have been made have dealt with matters which will be more properly considered in the stage of Committee. There is, however, one question of principle upon which I will say a few words. Reference has been made to the skeleton or outlying character of the Bill. It must be observed that it is absolutely essential in continuing a system or scheme under which the Bill is to be worked that you should leave a great deal to rules and to persons who are to work the Bill under those rules. The noble Duke, who dealt with this point, appears to have omitted to notice that all those rules are subject to the approval of Parliament. They are to be laid before Parliament, and are capable of being disaffirmed by Resolution of either House. With regard to the general diffusion of the system all over the country, I am not indisposed, considering the mode in which this Bill has been debated, to set one class of objectors against the other. There is at the present moment an actual land register in this country. There are 380 land tax districts in which every yard of land is measured and recorded in the books of the Land Tax Commissioners. If it were desired to bring all the land at once under the Bill, it would be necessary—as has been pointed out to your Lordships—to have an enormous staff in order that the titles in the first instance should be examined by fit and competent persons, and it is not only the expense, but, as I think, the unmanageable nature of such an enormous staff that renders such a plan impracticable; whereas, if the system which I recommend should be ultimately resolved upon, a proper preliminary investigation must be made by persons with something like an intimate knowledge of what the estates consist of before the Order in Council is obtained creating the land transfer district. After that district is proclaimed your whole staff may apply themselves to that district, and afterwards it will be mere clerical work, which can be directed from the central London office. My Lords, it seems to me that that is a most important provision, not only with reference to the expense, but also with reference to the ability of the staff to cope with what would otherwise be the gigantic magnitude of the task which would be thrown upon it. With reference to the alterations which it appears to me are expedient at all events, in the law of real property, if I attempted to do something beyond what I have done the fate of this Bill might not be what I hope for it. I have only to return my most hearty thanks to my noble and learned Friends who have contributed so many valuable suggestions, and I need not say that every suggestion they have made will receive earnest and careful consideration. The passing of this Bill will only be possible if I receive their generous assistance, and the benefit of their learning and experience. I quite agree that the mode in which one Act of Parliament refers to another—and then in that other Statute you are referred to yet another, and so on—is a great scandal, and I believe it has led to the greatest difficulty in understanding and interpreting the law. But I fear that, if I had added the Act of 1875—which contains 127 clauses—to this Bill of 57 clauses, its passage through Parliament would not have been facilitated. But this I will say on the part of the Government—that if this Bill should pass I certainly should immediately introduce a Consolidation Bill. I am far from under-rating the value of such a consolidation of the law, but, looking at the Parliamentary difficulties, I do not think it desirable to attempt it in this Bill. I hope to convince the noble Lord who moved this Amendment that my object was really to amend the state of the law, and not to get a Party advantage, and I trust he will give us credit for a desire to facilitate the transfer of land, and not to get a cheap popularity.

Amendment (by leave of the House) withdrawn.

Original Motion agreed to; and Bill read 2a accordingly.

House adjourned at a quarter before Eight o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Ten o'clock.